Active Rest for Weight Training

By Alan Frost, updated January 2014

man Running On TreadmillActive rest, also called active recovery, basically refers to periods of low intensity training. Active rest helps your body recover and it wards of overtraining – one of the primary reasons why people plateau.

So What is Active Rest?

Active rest sometimes refers to the short rest periods between sets or workouts, days which we take off training but engage in other light activity, or specific training days at the gym where we train at a lower intensity.

For weight lifters it is very common to include some active rest weight training sessions, which consist of a few compound exercises (like the squat, deadlift, bench press, pull down, rows, shoulder press, etc.) performed at a low intensity for high reps. The goal here is not to strain the muscle like you do in your regular workout. The focus here is on recovery.

Active rest therefore refers to activities like light weight training (e.g. at 50-60% of your 1 rep max), sports (if not performed intensively), yoga, walking, etc., as well as just staying active during the rest period between sets.

How does Active Rest Help?

Active rest helps remove lactic acid and improves blood flow. It essentially improves your body's ability to recover while at the same time helping to maintain your physical performance level during periods of rest.

You can also use active rest gym sessions as a way to work on perfecting your form and also on training your core.

How Often Should I Include Active Rest?

There are different ways to include active rest:

Active Walk
  • First, do not just sit down in between sets and do not simple end intensive workouts by going home. Use light activity to help you recover better.
  • During most of your normal rest days, you should also incorporate light activity.
  • Substitute training days here and there with light weight training routines.
  • Alternatively, include an entire week "off" with 2-4 active rest weight training sessions (e.g. after one month or following an 8-12 week cycle).

There is no single correct formula but there is some general good advice, such as staying active between sets, using active recovery immediately after very intensive workouts, and staying lightly active on most of your rest days. Substituting light weight training days or full active recovery weeks into your schedule really depends on the intensity of your training. If you are a beginner, start with a week of active rest ever 2 months and take it from there.

For athletes competing in a long season, it may also be necessary to take a more significant period of time off before returning to training. During this time, active rest is highly encouraged to maintain physical ability while recovering.

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